As All Creatures Great and Small continues, veterinarian James Herriot is settling into his job after the rather rough first few days we saw in the series premiere. He’s learning how to handle his eccentric boss Siegfried Farnon and gets to spend his days dealing with the animals he loves and exploring the wonderful countryside. He even has a possible love interest, although he’s not yet ready to do anything about it—Helen Alderson, who runs a farm with her father and who shares his love of Yorkshire.
What could possibly go wrong? At Skeldale House, Siegfried is ranting about the state of the supply cupboard to his housekeeper Mrs. Hall, who raises her eyebrows and suggests he use a system. He pounces next upon James, who responds with a formula designed to stop the flow of invective:
Sorry, what have I done?
Next, Siegfried drops the bombshell that his younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse, The Durrels in Corfu), who has completed his studies at Edinburgh, is arriving that day and that James should pick him up at the train station. As Mrs. Hall and James express surprise, he reminds them that he’d spoken about it the day before. And, since this is a special occasion, James will be allowed to take Siegfried’s beautiful shiny Rover, his pride and joy. After James leaves, though, Siegfried tells Mrs. Hall he intends it to be a warning to Tristan that he has competition in the practice. Because Tristan, as we are to find out, is a bit of a brat.
On his way to the station, James has a call to make at the farm of Dennis and Sylvie Handshaw (Nigel Betts, Melanie Kilburn), who express displeasure that James is too young, he’s not Siegfried, and they’re full of advice as he examines their downed cow. Their diagnosis is “worm in the tail,” among other silliness, and they advise him that “old ways are the old ways for a reason.” James, putting his faith in science, diagnoses calcium deficiency, a common condition in cows that have recently calved, and treats the cow accordingly, assuring the couple that she will be on her feet in no time.
Tristan, asleep on a pile of mail sacks in the guard’s apartment on the train, is a bit worse for wear after a hard night of partying to celebrate the end of his examinations. He’s very anxious to hustle James out of the station, because he hasn’t bought a ticket for his journey, and insists on driving. He’s dismissive of James, amused at his tactful response to questions about how he’s getting on with Siegfried and whether he has a girlfriend. Tristan tells him he calls his brother’s assistants “mayflies” since they last, on average, about a day. He’s enjoying James’s discomfort so much that he has a near-miss with a van, and drives off the road. He ties up the damaged exhaust pipe with string, claiming that Siegfried won’t notice, and they arrive to a warm welcome at Skeldale House.
Mrs. Hall fusses over Tristan and Siegfried is delighted to have his younger brother home, proud to hear that his exams are “all finished.” Tristan, basking in the glow of approval, is disappointed that James has his bedroom and that he’s been relegated to a tiny room. James is starting to worry that he will lose his job. What if the practice can’t support both of them? Worse, Tristan scores a point with tidying up the supply cupboard and then accompanies James on his calls. First up is the Handshaw’s prone cow. The couple greets Tristan with delight, and feeds him tea and cake, making a point of letting James know that he won’t get any. They now claim the cow has “water in the lughole.” James injects a stimulant and follows their advice to shout “Cush! Cush!” at her. The cow doesn’t move, and Tristan, lounging on a straw bale, is immensely entertained.
Back in Skeldale, Mrs. Hall is meeting her glamorous friend Dorothy (Mamie McCoy) for tea, and as she leaves the house, Siegfried drives up in the Rover, which so far is holding together. Dorothy jokingly asks Mrs. Hall if he is her fancy man, and then she and Siegfried proceed to flirt. As Mrs. Hall and Dorothy catch up, we learn Dorothy is planning a vacation and needs to sell her car, and Mrs. Hall mentions her concern about “my Edward.” And, a bit of backstory—they met in the Wrens, where Mrs. Hall was her commanding officer.
Siegried, it turns out, is on his way to visit another veterinarian, George Panhi (Kris Dosanjh), who’s trying to get his practice off the ground. Siegfried can’t help boasting about his growing practice now that he has two assistants.
James and Tristan meanwhile have an appointment with local royalty, Mrs. Pumphrey (Dame Diana Rigg in her final role). She lives in a massive Georgian house, her wealth derived from the family’s wool business. The house teams with activity, preparing for a party the next day, while the patient, Tricki Woo, a spoiled, overfed Pekinese, perches on a silk pillow under the watchful eye of his adoring owner. Mrs. Pumphrey takes her pet very, very seriously and reminds Tristan that he stood on Tricki Woo’s tail the last time he visited; she does not take his attempts at humor too well. But both dog and owner take a liking to James.
The final call of the day is a return visit for James, to check on the calf whose leg he set in Episode 1, on Helen Alderson’s farm. Helen is strangely immune to Tristan's flirty charm and James ignores his comments about a “lovely view” (of her) as she drives them up a steep hillside to see the patient. But that long, breathtaking swoop of fell is indeed a lovely view.
Back at Skeldale, James and Tristan bicker over whose job it is to feed the animals until an invitation arrives from Tricki Woo for Uncle James Herriot to attend Mrs. Pumphrey’s party. James is definitely top dog now in his rivalry with Tristan. Seeing his brother’s disappointment, Siegfried promises Tristan a late-night chat and his best whisky after the party. Reluctantly, Tristan agrees to lend James his tux, and Mrs. Hall offers to make any alterations necessary (Tristan claims it will need to be taken out, but Mrs. Hall knows she’ll have to take it in).
The only thing that spoils the excitement is a call from the Handshaws, to tell James that—surprise—the cow is still down. He really doesn’t want to let Siegfried know and arranges to go out the next morning.
Mrs. Hall has learned from Dorothy that her son, the mysterious Edward, is living at a nearby town, and she makes up a care package of shortbread and a check to send him. We still don’t know why they’re estranged, but she’s committed to looking after him, as Siegfried is committed to taking care of his younger brother. Siegfried makes Dorothy an offer on the car she wants to sell—he offers eighteen pounds to her asking price of twenty. She accepts but asks him to look out for Mrs. Hall, who gives so generously to those she loves. Siegfried promptly offers twenty-five, the deal is struck, and he’s full of excitement at presenting Tristan with a new car.
At the Handshaws’ farm the next morning, there is a concerted effort—Tristan even joins in, despite saying that he’d prefer “an overseeing capacity”—to get the cow up, with everyone shouting “Cush!” This time the Henshaws suggest she should have a sheepskin put on her back, but James examines her again and hears a creaking sound which he diagnoses as a fractured pelvis. There’s nothing to be done, he tells them. The cow should be put down. James is devastated at the diagnosis and not only because, eventually, Siegfried will have to find out about it.
When they return to Skeldale House, however, Siegfried isn’t interested in their work—he leads them outside to present the car to Tristan, who isn’t nearly as excited as we’d expect. Siegfried gets very emotional remembering the time their father gave him a car, but Tristan remains subdued. He’s hiding something, and Mrs. Hall, while she is altering the tux for James, finds out what it is.
She has an intense, very personal conversation with Siegfried when he presents himself, all cleaned up and in a tux for the party. She gently suggests that Siegfried might want to take the opportunity to find a romantic partner at the event, but Siegfried backs off, claiming her comment is out of line for an employee. Sure enough at the party, Siegfried is gregarious and charming, but he never dances with the same partner twice.
When Mrs. Hall and Tristan are alone, she confronts Tristan and gently advises him to tell his brother that he failed his examinations: the piece of paper she found in his jacket pocket was his result notification.
At the party, Siegfried and James anticipate an evening of good food and wine and dancing, although James discovers his role as Tricki Woo’s plus one is rather limiting; and he’s annoyed that Mrs. Pumphrey is feeding her dog what she claims is his favorite food, trifle, against his advice. He's delighted that Helen—Aunt Alderson—is there, and is on the brink of asking her out when handsome, wealthy Hugh Holton (Matthew Lewis), who is clearly her date for the night, appears.
Even worse, Siegfried has been chatting with his colleague George, who tells him an amusing story: apparently one of his assistants told the Handshaws to send a downed cow to the knackers, but it made a miraculous recovery. Furious, Siegfried drags James out of the party and back to the farm, where the cow, covered in a sheepskin, is on all four hooves again. James made a rookie mistake; the cow's ligaments had not yet tightened up after the birth and so the pelvis was creaky.
They return to Skeldale where James and Mrs. Hall retire to a safe distance while Tristan confesses to Siegfried. Siegfried is hurt by his brother’s behavior and close to tears, while Tristan tells him that technically he didn’t fail because he passed the last examination, but not the other two. It doesn’t help, and a chastened Tristan makes his peace with James. First, Tristan is grateful that James took the brunt of Siegfried’s anger with the misdiagnosis of the cow so that he wasn’t running at peak capacity when he found out about Tristan’s deception. Tristan is also delighted to hear the tale of James’s cat confusion (Episode 1). He’s relieved that he’s lost the car, which is now up for sale, since he felt so guilty about deceiving and hurting his brother. It’s possible also, that what we, and James, took for laziness on patient calls, may have been a reluctance to practice while unqualified.
The seal is set on the two’s alliance when they see Siegfried outside polishing his beloved car, and—talk about bad timing—the exhaust pipe drops off. They run away as he yells at them.
What did you think of this episode’s new characters—Tristan, Mrs. Pumphrey, and Tricki Woo? Are you convinced that Tristan will turn over a new leaf? And why is Siegfried so averse to a relationship?